We mourn the passing of Jen Angel, a tenacious anarchist organizer whose efforts spanned the better part of four decades. Below, we’ll review some of Jen’s many contributions over the years and share some memories from those who love her.
We were fortunate to know Jen. Her generosity and exuberance inspired us and we worked together in a variety of ways.
Like many of us, Jen got her start in do-it-yourself print media and counterculture at an early age, before the internet brought digital connectivity to the average North American household. Her career extended from the high point of the do-it-yourself counterculture through the turn-of-the-century movement against capitalist globalization to the Occupy movement, the Trump era, and the George Floyd uprising.
Jen had an ampersand tattooed on her wrist. You could say that this represented her approach to organizing, taking on responsibilities, and addressing differences and conflict in her community: “Yes, and.”
She was a dependable friend, affectionate and curious, who brought an even keel and considerable stamina to her projects along with an unpretentious Midwestern demeanor. She dedicated herself to a wide range of collective undertakings, providing thankless behind-the-scenes work and offering the kind of warm-hearted hospitality that enables people to put down roots together.
In high school, Jen started out as a classical musician. Although the punk scene was to play a central role in her life story, this was the closest she got to playing in a band.
“I played the bassoon. Nobody would let me in their punk band.”
“I learned a lot from punk,” Jen later explained in an interview: “to assert myself, to express my opinion… those are all important things, things that are also inherent in independent media. Independent media outlets like Clamor allow regular, everyday people, not experts, to get their opinion out in the world.”
Starting in her mid-teens in 1991, Jen published the zine Fucktooth. Like many of us, she cut her teeth as an author and organizer by bringing out a publication of her own, learning by doing. This was how she developed the skills that she later put at the disposal of an array of social movements.
As a teenager, Jen also explored non-monogamous relationship models, at a time when non-monogamy was unthinkable for many people of her generation, especially in the Midwest, where she grew up. She was at the cutting edge of a variety of experiments that later spread far and wide.
Jen became involved with punk infrastructure where she lived in Columbus, Ohio, including the notorious Legion of Doom punk house and Columbus More Than Music Fest. In 1996, she participated in the Active Resistance gathering in Chicago, providing a counterpoint to the Democratic National Convention. Active Resistance was an important forerunner of subsequent anarchist convergences such as the mobilizations in Seattle during the protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization summit and, later, in response to the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
That same year, Jen got involved with publishing the Zine Yearbook, drawing on her experience in do-it-yourself publishing to collect the best of the underground press. The Zine Yearbook appeared annually from 1996 until 2004.
At the invitation of Tim Yohannan—longtime editor of Maximum Rock’n’Roll, arguably the most influential do-it-yourself punk magazine—Jen moved to the Bay Area in 1997 to help coordinate MRR. At the time, the magazine had a monthly circulation of 14,000 copies. As Jen put it, “I’ve been doing zines for a really long time and Maximum is the biggest zine there is.”
During this stint in the Bay Area, Jen worked at Punks with Presses, another classic punk institution of that time. But Tim died of cancer in April 1998, and Jen was forced out of her position at Maximum Rock’n’Roll shortly thereafter.
Jen published the 24th and final issue of her first zine, Fucktooth, in 1999. In the intervening years, the punk underground and the zine culture it helped sustain had developed into a massive global network interwoven with other movements worldwide. This culminated in riotous demonstrations against the 1999 summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, confirming the arrival of a new global era of protest. Jen moved back to Ohio, where her partner Jason Kucsma was attending Bowling Green State University, and the two founded a new magazine together, Clamor. The first issue appeared in early 2000, including—like every like-minded publication of that time—breathless accounts from the WTO demonstrations.
Jen helped to organize the annual Underground Publishing Conference in Bowling Green, initially founded as the “Midwest Zine Conference” in 1999 and later rebranded as the Allied Media Conference, which continues to this day in Detroit. Jen and Jason moved to Toledo in 2002, where they continued working ceaselessly on Clamor.
Ultimately, Jen and Jason published 38 issues of the magazine. When their distributor went under, Clamor collapsed; the last issue came out in fall 2006. Jen’s romantic relationship with Jason came to an end, as well, illustrating the risks for activists who afford themselves no breathing room between their relationships and their projects. You can read all the issues of Clamor on their website.
With the end of Clamor, Jen shifted her attention to organizing publicity for authors. This developed into the collective Aid & Abet, through which she worked with David Graeber, Jacob Conroy of the SHAC 7 and Will Potter of Green Is the New Red, Margaret Killjoy, Frank López of SubMedia, scott crow of Common Ground, and many other authors, filmmakers, and organizers over the next several years.
Jen moved back to the Bay Area in 2006, fostering a community through collective dinners and other traditional punk and Midwestern forms of conviviality. Though many radicals who experiment with alternative family structures withdraw to nuclear families later in life, Jen continued to invest her energy in living collectively and nourishing a dense network of polyamorous relationships; these remained important to Jen throughout her adulthood. At that time, the Bay Area was rapidly gentrifying, but it remained an epicenter of radical activity, including the movement responding to the murder of Oscar Grant in 2008 and Occupy Oakland in 2011.
In addition to public organizing, Jen made her home into a space of encounter drawing together people of a variety of interests and walks of life. For example, when we published After the Crest, reflecting on the waning phase of the Occupy movement, dozens of the fiercest participants in the Oakland Commune crowded into her living room to discuss it. Years later, during the To Change Everything tour in the United States, participants in the tour got to inspect an early version of the game Bloc by Bloc at a salon Jen hosted.
Revolutionary potential blossoms when people give it space and resources the way that Jen did.
Jen became a core organizer of the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, the longest-running anarchist book fair in the United States. Behind the scenes, she helped several radical projects to balance their books, aiming to protect them from the fate that had befallen Clamor. From 2013-2014, she helped organize the Bay Area Radical History Project, a series of presentations focusing on Bay Area activism over the preceding three decades, seeking to connect the wave of people who became involved in radical politics through the Occupy movement with veteran activists from earlier movements.
The goal is to raise awareness of anarchism as a whole, and we are completely prepared to do promote diverse (and contradictory) parts of anarchism as long as the ideas, groups, and individuals we are working with identify publicly as anarchists and share our core beliefs…
This is not an attempt to water down or make palatable the more militant parts of anarchism or of the community. Some anarchists run child-care programs and some anarchists smash windows and engage in sabotage. Sometimes the same individuals do both things.
Helping anarchists be more transparent about what they are doing and why, and with what goals, will make anarchist ideas more accessible in hopes of allowing more folks to understand that a different world is possible.
With considerable support from the community that she cultivated around her, Jen also got her cupcake business off the ground and sustained it through a series of challenges. This ensured that she could make decisions in her activism on the basis of her values rather than financial pressures, even as life in the gentrifying Bay Area became nearly untenable.
Organizing involves ceaseless challenges and, often, a tremendous amount of heartache. Despite decades of stress, disappointment, and grueling unpaid labor, Jen continued forward cheerfully. She helped to make the 2022 Bay Area Book Fair a success and was involved in the organizing for the 2023 Book Fair at the time of her passing.
Reviewing Jen’s life, it’s easy to be reminded of Aragorn!, another Midwesterner who grew up making zines in the do-it-yourself punk scene, moved to the Bay Area, worked on Maximum Rock’n’Roll, and distinguished himself as a publisher and a fixture in the anarchist milieu. During Occupy Oakland and its aftermath, Jen and Aragorn! lived only a few blocks apart in Berkeley.
It has been almost exactly three years now since Aragorn!’s untimely passing—three years that have seen such a spate of tragedies that it’s hard not to feel desensitized. But the losses of Aragorn! and Jen are linked, for both erode our access to the generation of anarchists who emerged from the crucible of the 1990s.
In attitude and approach, the two could not be more different. While Aragorn! pursued confrontational critique almost as an end in itself, Jen focused on logistics nearly to the exclusion of ideology. Coming out of the motley crowds of the punk scene and the heady optimism of the Seattle WTO protests, Jen took for granted that theoretical cohesion was not as important as openness and inclusivity. While Aragorn! wrongly interpreted Jen as an appendage of his perceived rivals at AK and PM Press, Jen couldn’t see what there was to gain from sectarian debate—even when there were real strategic differences at stake.
The important thing to understand is that Jen’s and Aragorn!’s approaches to anarchism evolved in continuous response to each other over a period of decades. Each sought to correct the shortcomings of the other’s strategy. Consequently, although neither would acknowledge it—or rather, precisely for that reason—their efforts add up to a complementary whole. Those who wish to learn from one of them must also understand the other.
“There’s this misconception that anarchism means chaos. But the term means ‘without rulers.’ We don’t expect people to organize for us. We organize for ourselves.”
Jen’s untimely passing is a senseless tragedy. She lost her life as the consequence of an apparent robbery attempt. As her loved ones emphasized, she would be furious if anyone were to use this as an excuse to justify more police violence:
Jen’s family and friends ask that stories referencing Jen’s life do not use her legacy of care and community to further inflame narratives of fear, hatred, and vengeance. We do not support putting public resources into policing, incarceration, or other state violence that perpetuates the cycle of violence that resulted in this tragedy.
Anyone who has spent time in the Bay Area over the past decade knows that one of the primary forces driving violence in the East Bay is the skyrocketing cost of living. The real estate profiteers who have heartlessly filled the streets of Oakland with desperate evictees and the politicians who have funneled money into the pockets of the police with no concern for the processes that are immiserating millions bear the lion’s share of responsibility for the risks that Bay Area residents face today.
Jen spent her life working to create a world in which everyone would have access to the food, shelter, medical care, and community that they need—a world in which there would be no incentives for anyone to do harm to others for the sake of material gain. No amount of violence from police, courts, or prisons could bring us an inch closer to such a world. We owe it to her to continue her efforts to abolish capitalism, the state, patriarchy, white supremacy, and all the other forms of hierarchy that contribute to violence and precarity in our communities. To the extent to which we make progress towards those goals, the world will be a safer place for everyone.
Nothing we can do will bring Jen back, but we can honor her life and her unflagging commitment to social change by taking up the torch she passed to us.
“The core tenets of anarchism are autonomy, mutual aid, voluntary association, and direct action. These are all positive things.”
How I Remember Jen
I’m a teenager at our local infoshop. I overhear two of the volunteers debating the value of a new magazine, Clamor.
“I think it’s trying to be too accessible,” says one.
“Yeah, but it’s Jen Angel’s magazine. You know why she has that name right? Because she really is an angel.”
Accessible is a four-letter word to me, because I like punk rock. But, somehow, because I like punk rock, I’m also drawn to four-letter words and to that which is disparaged. Plus the magazine is for sale at our infoshop, and our infoshop is cool. So I pick up a copy. OK, I think to myself, it’s not dripping with sweat and slobber the way Slug and Lettuce or Profane Existence are, but the articles are provocative.
It’s good. Because when Jen did things, she did them well.
I’m in my twenties. My best friend from that infoshop invites me to launch an anarchist communications collective with him and Jen Angel. I remember that name.
“Yeah, she’s got her shit together.”
She did. They both did, but I didn’t. After a few years, I fell out of the project, but I remained friends with Jen.
I’m in the Bay Area and I need somewhere to crash for a couple nights. Last time Jen was in my town, on a speaking tour with a recently released political prisoner, she offered “Next time you’re in the Bay and need somewhere to crash…”
I hit her up and I get to sleep in a padded and mirrored room next to hers. She has always been kind to me, grounded, has had her shit together. But this is the trip we really become friends.
Her house is beautiful. You can tell how much intention and collectivity goes into how the house functions. Especially the kitchen.
I can’t believe it when she tells me that she was an editor at Maximum Rock’n’Roll—having been passed the torch from none other than Tim Yohannan. We had been friends for a few years at this point, but I had no idea.
“You’re punk as fuck!”
What an angel. We spend an evening around the dinner table swapping dumb punk stories about stupid bands. My jaw dropped at the Maximum Rock’n’Roll reveal, but it completely detaches when I learn that she founded the punk house where I experienced my first kiss with the first girl I fell in love with: The Legion of Doom. She was the one who gave it that name.
The next day, I pick my jaw up from the floor so I can munch on one of Jen’s cupcakes. It’s good, like really good. Because when Jen did things, she did them well.
I’m at the San Francisco anarchist bookfair. There has been hella online drama for the weeks leading up to it because the bookfair is huge—thanks, in part, to Jen’s role in the organizing collective—and the best venue they could find is a former armory belonging to a high-profile pornography company. Some threatened to boycott, others threatened worse.
The day of the bookfair comes and I catch Jen for a second. She’s busy, I know it, but she barely seems it. “How are you doing with all the chatter?”
“Oh, it’s going fine. I put together a discussion later to talk about the decision-making that led to us choosing this venue, but frankly, we just needed more space, and they were happy to have us.”
She’s grounded, relaxed, and seems to be enjoying the event—not burdened by responsibility, just happy to be in the company of so many comrades sharing, communing, participating. I see friends from far away and long ago. I meet Gee Vaucher and Penny Rimbaud from Crass. I take my mom’s new boyfriend to a performance put on by some of my friends and collective-mates, and he’s wowed by it. It’s everything an anarchist bookfair should be. When Jen did things, she did them well.
I’m at Point Reyes, walking along the beach with Jen on her birthday. Her new boyfriend sees a pod of dolphins, strips down, and runs into the water to swim with them. We’re both like, “Whoa,” but I welcome it, because the dude is kind of, um, enthusiastic, and now we can really talk.
She just seems happy. Another birthday, life is going well, she’s busy and entertained and fulfilled. I don’t remember her fretting or worrying about her life much in all the times we talked. She was never distracted when we talked, and she was purposeful in the projects she put her effort into.
Jen Angel had a good life, because when she did things, she did them well.
I’ll miss you, Jen.
I met Jen before I knew I was an anarchist. I already was one at the time, and on some level, probably always had been, but I didn’t have the words or even know it was an option until shortly before meeting her.
I remember her asking me what made me think I WASN’T an anarchist, and when I said that I didn’t agree with some of the things that a lot of other anarchists thought and did, she laughed and told me that disagreeing with other anarchists is probably the one thing all anarchists agree on.
She helped me understand that agreement isn’t what makes us anarchists, so much as how we go about disagreeing, and whether we respect that other people are still free to do as they will even when we don’t agree with it.
It still took me a while before I was ready to consider myself an anarchist, but I don’t know if I’d ever have gotten there without those early conversations with Jen.
Jen and I worked together for a long time, but I’m struggling to find anything to say about those years because no matter how much of herself she poured into the bakery, she was bigger than the business she built to survive under capitalism.
Jen wanted to live in a world where we could bake cupcakes and lovingly share them with our community because we wanted to, not because we need to sell them to earn a living.
Jen wasn’t usually the loudest person in the room or the center of attention in Bay Area anarchist and activist spaces. But she was almost always working behind the scenes to build, sustain, and promote the crucial infrastructure that we all relied on (and sometimes took for granted). She rarely let sectarian infighting distract her from her ongoing work or undermine her long-term vision.
Jen was always a champion of the projects her friends and comrades pursued, a constant source of encouragement and sage advice. She was an early supporter of Bloc by Bloc (the board game inspired by social insurrection that I designed) and organized some of the first playtests of the game at her house in 2015. Jen’s optimism, perseverance, and consistency should be an inspiration to us all. She will be missed.
Jen’s legacy to political hardcore punk started as a Midwest emo kid who made it OK to be emotional and passionate and political, but most of all, smart. She gave the best hugs. She was a writer’s writer, someone you could sit with discussing which word fit best here or there. She gave workshops in the 1990s at the Columbus More Than Music Fests and Chicago Active Resistance, drawing people in and explaining the most difficult things in everyday language. Perhaps her biggest impact came through publishing indy-media, anarchist and political punk zines and magazines, from the photocopied Fucktooth to the glossy hardbound Zine Yearbook and Clamor. Tim Yohannan even chose her to take over publishing Maximum Rock’n’Roll before he died. She used words to connect us and ideas as sinews for our community. For Jen Angel, it was always about more than music.
Jen Angel was loving, was loved, and was love. She exuded a presence which was magnetic and powerful. It was an invitation for like-minded souls to join hands with her and together reach forward into a better world.
As I’m typing, the very writing of this eulogy makes no sense. Jen isn’t supposed to be dead. This world isn’t supposed to go on without her in it. She is supposed to be here as she was last week, and every month and year before this one. I started typing this thinking that finding the right words would be possible, but all of this is wrong. All I can say is that connecting with Jen was pure fire.
I’m holding her close tonight. I’m in shock that all this has happened. And I am hoping anyone reading this feels, amidst the shared pain we are all experiencing, that you are not alone. We will remember her together. And mourn together. And we will hopefully, on whatever level we can, help make the world better together. This would be a fitting legacy. None of this makes sense. But knowing that Jen would want us all connected, does.
Jen Angel believed in my work and took it and me seriously before I even really took myself seriously. She was always doing thankless behind-the-scenes work, but with an eye towards being strategic, towards building the better world we’re fighting for, and specifically, towards building each other up, providing venues for sharing ideas and coming to know one another.
Over the last 30 years, Jen Angel has been a visionary influence and pioneering participant within multiple movements and subcultures that have significantly informed and shaped our world in the here and now, from punk rock and anarchism in the 1990s, through the Global Justice and anti-war movements of the early 2000s to Occupy in 2011 and contemporary fights for racial justice, climate justice, economic justice, and beyond.
As Anarchist Agency recounted, on her 48th birthday, a few days before her death, Jen posted this poem by Mary Oliver on social media:
“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”